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How to avoid the bias of extraordinariness in recruitment?

By Laura Maréchal Published on 29 June 2021
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After hard skills, otherwise known as technical skills, and soft skills, also known as behavioral skills, a new category of skills has recently emerged: mad skills! Literally translated as “mad skills”, these unusual skills are becoming increasingly popular with recruiters who believe that skills acquired through hobbies, passions or various personal experiences can be a real asset to their company – especially when it comes to innovating or implementing disruptive strategies. But is recruiting on the basis of talent always relevant? And how can we overcome the bias of extraordinariness to which we are all subject when faced with these atypical skills?

Zooming in on the extraordinariness bias 🔎

You have probably always had your candidates’ mad skills in front of you, without necessarily giving them the slightest importance. But yes, you know, they are often listed in the “interests” or “hobbies” section of the CV. So, if we often find rather common interests such as travel, music or sports, some candidates stand out for their atypical hobbies! Indeed, who wouldn’t be impressed by a candidate who has traveled the world, who has a skydiving license or who designs his own clothes? The classic trap with these skills is to think that the candidate is exceptional because he or she has an exceptional talent.

A shortcut that can easily be made: it is called the extraordinariness bias. It consists in giving more credit to a person who possesses an extraordinary characteristic, even if it means sometimes forgetting the most important thing, namely the soft skills or the know-how of the candidate. According to an Indeed study, 75% of recruiters are intrigued by an atypical experience. Moreover, mentioning atypical interests on a CV arouses curiosity for 63% of recruiters.

So don’t be fooled, mad skills are very important during a recruitment process and can allow you to recruit atypical profiles that could distinguish themselves from the other talents of your organization. For example: recruiting a person who practices extreme sports in competition could mean that this person does not lack composure, likes to push the limits and is not afraid of the unknown.

However, be careful not to fall into stereotypes with these mad skills… It’s not because you’re recruiting someone who taught himself oenology that he will have such a high learning capacity in his job! On the other hand, he will surely be able to animate your afterworks with efficiency 😉Moreover, even if they can be a big plus on the CVs, these original talents are not always relevant for the position to be filled. Just like soft skills, it is necessary to recruit on the basis of the skills needed for the position to be filled, and not to go out of your way to recruit a five-legged sheep! Does this candidate, who is a sports team captain and has thus developed great leadership and communication skills, really need these skills for the developer position you are offering him?

How do we thwart this cognitive bias? 🤔

One thing is certain: the more people are involved in the recruitment process, the more likely they are to be subject to various cognitive biases! Indeed, there are nearly 200 of them and it is therefore difficult to identify them in order to tame them better… However, there are still some good practices to objectify and secure your decision making, without being influenced by the bias of extraordinariness or any other bias 😊. Here are our tips to apply 👇

1️⃣ Don’t make it a criteria for choosing… 🚫

We have already told you in one of our previous articles “what place to give to your intuition in recruitment” but yes, trusting your instinct and the feeling of the candidate can sometimes bring a very useful insight – especially when you have to choose between two profiles for example. However, one should not let oneself be impressed by unusual talents. Moreover, unlike hard skills and soft skills, mad skills are difficult to objectify…

Our advice

Don’t make mad skills a criterion of choice, but seize the opportunity when it presents itself! Also, there is no need to revolutionize your recruitment processes… Continue to evaluate the soft skills of your candidates based on the activities related to the position, as well as to your sector of activity, using a solution like WeSuggest. You can then, if you think it is relevant, dig into the mad skills of the candidates who have the best matching scores with your organization.

2️⃣ Make the connection to the key soft skills for the position 🔗

Without going into stereotypes, it is true that certain hobbies and interests can reveal the key soft skills of your candidates! For example, a person who has been volunteering for years in a humanitarian association has certainly developed a great sense of empathy; similarly, a candidate who regularly performs stand-up comedy will potentially have a greater ability to express himself in public.

Our advice

Even if a link can sometimes be made between mad skills and soft skills, it is still necessary to be careful with stereotypes and preconceived ideas! For example, as a recruiter, you might be tempted to think that a person who has traveled the globe likes to discover, interact with others and take a multicultural approach. However, when you talk to the candidate, you realize that he or she wanted to travel for the sake of the challenge and to prove to those around him or her that he or she was capable of doing so. In this case, the notion of challenge is much stronger than the notion of discovery, and it was therefore important to talk to the candidate about his or her motivations in order to avoid drawing a conclusion that may not be the right one!

3️⃣ How to ask the right questions, related to mad skills, during the interview ❓

You have to prepare for an interview. Also, relying on a guide allows you to conduct a structured or semi-structured interview and to evaluate the candidates on the same criteria. In addition, it shows the candidate that you have prepared the interview well in advance.

Our advice

In your interview guide, you can include questions related to your candidate’s technical or behavioral skills, but you can also add a few questions related to these mad skills by orienting them to their learning. For example, ask the candidate if he or she has developed any new skills as a result of the job, or if he or she thinks it will be useful in his or her future job, etc. The challenge is to know what the person has retained from these experiences, what he or she has developed and thus verify that your preconceived ideas are the right ones.

In conclusion, if they can be real assets in companies to get off the beaten track and recruit atypical profiles that will blossom within your company, they should not be evaluated at the same level as technical skills or soft skills… It is the combination of hard, soft and mad skills that will allow you to recruit candidates who will stand out from the crowd!

What if you used WeSuggest for your next recruitments? Our matching algorithm recommends the key soft skills to evaluate for the position to be filled and allows you to secure your recruitments by selecting the candidates who will flourish within your organization. Test it for free by creating an account onWeSuggest.

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